Flight attendants get more uterine, thyroid and other cancers, study finds

Female flight Attendants used to illustrate the story

Female flight Attendants used to illustrate the story

The Harvard University scientists behind the work came to their conclusion by examining data from more than 5,300 US-based flight attendants who filled out an online survey between December 2014 and June 2015 as part of the larger "Harvard Flight Attendant Health Study".

Studies of pilots have generally shown higher rates of skin and prostate cancers, she noted, adding that pilots also have been found to have circadian rhythm disruption, but these workers have somewhat more built-in protections around their scheduling and rest times than flight attendants do.

US flight attendants have a higher prevalence of several forms of cancer, including breast cancer, uterine cancer, gastrointestinal cancer, thyroid cancer, and cervical cancer, when compared with the general public, according to new research from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The flight-crew rate was 0.15 percent compared to 0.13 percent for uterine cancer; 1.0 compared to 0.70 percent for cervical cancer; 0.47 compared to 0.27 percent for stomach or colon cancer; and 0.67 compared to 0.56 percent for thyroid cancer.

Not only are flight crews more likely to be diagnosed with cancer, the longer they work in the field, the higher the risk of developing it becomes, researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote in the Environmental Health journal.

There is a higher risk of breast cancer in women never had children and women who had three or more children, according to the study.

Nearly every commercial flight begins with a member of the cabin crew delivering a spiel to passengers about inflight safety. The comparison indicated a higher risk of various types of cancers in flight attendants than the people who did not belong to that profession.

The findings suggest that additional efforts should be made in the U.S.to minimize the risk of cancer among flight attendants, including monitoring radiation dose and organizing schedules to minimize radiation exposure and circadian rhythm disruption, say the authors.

Even when flight attendants reported having stereotypically good health, diet, and exercise regimens, the likelihood that they would be stricken with certain cancers was still higher than the other survey respondents.

This was compared with data from 23,729 men and women with similar economic status who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey during the same years.

Length of service did not appear to be a factor with breast cancer, thyroid cancer or melanoma in all women.

Cabin crew are much more likely to develop cancer, according to new research.

At high altitudes, where the air is thinner and provides less of a shield, passengers and crew can be exposed to between 100 and 300 times the cosmic radiation dose they receive at sea level. And the risk of melanoma rose three times for cabin crew of both sexes. For example, the flight staff participants tended to be older than control subjects and a larger proportion were women.

Unions for flight attendants at Southwest and American airlines identified crew fatigue as a top health issue that needs to be addressed, something the pending Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization bill could do with required minimum rest times.

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